What's on: The festival guide for 2016
Start planning this year’s holidays and weekends away in Ireland with our guide to the best arts events and festivals throughout the country
Start planning this year’s holidays and weekends away. Browse the full list or jump to the month you want.
Easter Rising Centenary
Remembering, reconciling, presenting, imagining and celebrating are the themes of the 100th-anniversary celebration of the 1916 Rising.
Out to Lunch
Boutique Belfast festival gets 2016 off to a bright start with music from Villagers and William Doyle – aka East India Youth – a production of John Steinbeck’s classic Of Mice and Men at the Black Box Theatre, a full programme of stand-up, a Wine Goose Chase and lots more.
Music for Galway Midwinter
Classical midwinter series explores music on the theme of incarceration. With Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, a film from the Theresienstadt ghetto and the world premiere of a piece commissioned from Michel Galante, The Ballad of Reading Gaol.
Temple Bar Tradfest
Annual celebration of sounds traditional in the heart of Dublin. Whether you’re into familiar folk or radical trad you’ll find something to enjoy in a programme that ranges from Martin Hayes to Duke Special, and from Liam Ó Maonlaí to Seamus Begley – as well as a pub-based music trail and TradKids, a programme of activities for children aged two and up at the Ark.
Subtitle European Film Festival
January 30th-February 1st
These films were huge hits in their own countries – but they weren’t in English, so we didn’t see them. Subtitle strikes back with a weekend of big-screen comedy and drama in Galway.
Derry International Irish Music Festival
January 31st-February 7th
Big new festival hosted by Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin, the Irish cultural centre in Derry, will feature artists from Ireland, Scotland, Los Angeles and Cape Breton. Among the main events is Transatlantic Sessions, on February 5th, under the artistic directorship of Aly Bain and Jerry Douglas, with a house band that features Michael McGoldrick and John McCusker.
Chinese New Year
One of the most colourful and family-oriented festivals of the year, with everything from cookery demonstrations to kung-fu displays, and a concert with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra. It’s the year of the monkey, so: Xin Nian Hao, fellow primates . . .
Cork International Poetry Festival
Munster Literature Centre assembles a plethora of poets by the Lee, with readings from Moya Cannon, Thomas McCarthy, Vona Groarke, Gerry Smyth, Liam Ó Muirthile and Louis de Paor, among others. Plus an evening of love poetry for St Valentine’s Day.
The 17th edition of the traditional festival at the Gleneagles Hotel, in Killarney, features concerts, céilithe, set dancing, stories and workshops.
Audi Dublin International Film Festival
Ten days of film heaven with screenings morning, noon and night, special guests, Irish premieres and Hollywood stars.
Father Ted fans invade Craggy Island – also known as Inis Mór – for a weekend of lunacy that includes nuns-v-priests five-a-side football, the Toilet Duck comedy awards and a lovely girls contest.
New thinking on new technology is the motto of this collaborative festival devoted to film, television, animation, gaming, VR, AR and all other things digital.
It’s all about the songs as country fans from both sides of the Atlantic get together for the annual “Belnash” bash.
Ennis Book Club Festival
What better way to spend a chilly spring weekend than to dive into books in Co Clare? Readings, talks and – a new chapter this year – an all-action strand for young readers as the festival celebrates its 10th birthday.
Mountains to the Sea
Stories by the sea at Dún Laoghaire’s annual book festival. Highlights include a strong young-adult strand with Sarah Crossan, Patrick Ness and Louise O’Neill, Sir Michael Parkinson in conversation with his son Michael, readings from Donal Ryan and Pauline Bewick, and the Poetry Now segment with the Pulitzer winner Paul Muldoon.
St Patrick’s Festival
Live gigs and street theatre, funfairs and food markets, buildings that turn green, parades in every county: it’s the annual Paddy’s Day bash, so it is.
This annual festival for the design and creative industries is one of our highlights of the year. A weekend spent here usually provides enough inspiration to keep our ideas bubbling through the rest of the year. iloveoffset.com
One City One Book
Lia Mills’s novel Fallen, which looks at the role of Irish soldiers in the first World War as well as the events of 1916 in Ireland, is the reading choice for 2016. And for the first time it’s “Two Cities One Book”, as Dublin teams up with Belfast for a month of readings, films, gigs and events designed to bring the book to life.
Cork Tango Festival
Whether you’re a beginner or a devotee, immerse yourself in tango at the Metropole Hotel in Cork. With workshops, seminars, yoga classes and a tango cafe.
Dublin City Council’s showcase of the capital’s musical talent, celebrating everything from classical to pop, trad to rock, and electronic to opera – and giving some love to the city’s music venues, both established or unorthodox, into the bargain.
Poetry, fiction and plenty more at Galway’s annual festival of literature.
Drogheda Arts Festival
April 25th-May 2nd
Comedy, contemporary music, theatre: you name it, you can see it in the Co Louth town come early spring.
April 26th-May 2nd
Project Arts Centre, in Dublin, holds the seventh edition of its five-day focus on live performance, digital interactions, dialogues and exhibitions, provocations and discussions.
Cork International Choral Festival
April 27th-May 1st
A chance to experience some of the world’s most uplifting choral music as choirs from all over the world come together for a programme of concerts and competitions.
Feile na Bealtaine
April 28th-May 2nd
Bilingual festival offers a quirky, innovative take on the culture of the Dingle Peninsula; the programme includes music, crafts and visual-arts shows, poetry, film and comedy.
Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival
April 28th-May 8th
A spring helping of all things cultural in Belfast. Noted for its eclectic programming and centred around the city’s attractive trade-and-warehousing district.
Bray Jazz Festival
April 29th-May 1st
Riffs by the sea at the 17th edition of the Co Wicklow town’s jazz gathering, with a special emphasis on improvisatory musicians from all corners of the globe.
April 29th-May 2nd
Small but perfectly formed live festival that in recent years has attracted such top-notch acts as Calexico, Ryan Adams and Rodney Crowell.
Galway Theatre Festival
April 29th-May 7th
Galway’s theatres turn the city into a wonderland for the imagination, with plays at An Taibhdhearc, Druid’s Mick Lally Theatre, the Town Hall and Nuns Island.
Music in Drumcliffe
April 30th-May 2nd
Since it began, in 2000, this spring festival in Co Sligo has brought first-rate chamber music to the scenic Yeats country.
The annual celebration of creativity aims to pass traditions between the older generation and the younger.
Dublin Dance Festival
Identity, migration, mobility and territory are this year’s festival themes. The first programme from its new director, Benjamin Perchet, includes a new piece from Alonzo King Lines Ballet, in San Francisco, with an original score by the tabla maestro Zakir Hussain, as well as a commissioned collaboration with Siamsa Tire, Anam, which brings together step-dancers from the US, Canada and Ireland.
Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine
The starting point for this year’s festival will be Local Hero – Global Hero, and the weekend will start with the question “Our food – what’s the story?” Mouth-watering assembly of some of the world’s finest food writers, critics and producers.
International Literature Festival, Dublin
A stunning array of top international literary talent comes to Dublin for the annual feast of readings, discussions, debates, workshops and screenings, with an excellent children’s programme to boot.
Corona Fastnet Short Film Festival
This innovative indie festival in the west Cork seaside village of Schull shows short films in the village hall, in pubs, in shops and on the sides of buildings.
Conversations galore – plus poetry, film and music – on the inspirational island of Inishbofin.
From modest drum-and-bass beginnings at Glastonbury, this festival in the gorgeous surroundings of Belvedere House and Gardens, in Mullingar, Co Westmeath, is now one of the most all-inclusive electronic music events in Ireland, with everything from ambient to dub and psytrance to please the discerning electro-enthusiast.
Irish Aerial Dance Festival
May 28th-June 11th
The seventh festival of aerial dance run by Fidget Feet and An Grianán returns to Letterkenny, Co Donegal. If you’ve ever yearned to take classes in trapeze, cloudswing, rope or wall-running, go for it. They say anyone can do it . . .
Listowel Writers’ Week
Readings, poetry, chat, workshops, the announcement of the Kerry Group Irish novel of the year, theatre, film – you name it, Listowel’s got it during writers’ week, and has had for 45 years.
Rory Gallagher Tribute Festival
Guitar workshops, Rory exhibitions and gigs galore as Ballyshannon, in Co Donegal, salutes its famous blues guitarist.
Sky Cat Laughs
Irish comedians are joined by a huge international line-up for Kilkenny’s annual comedy festival. With shows from lunchtime until after midnight – and, not to be missed, the traditional football match between native and visiting comedians.
The Royal Hospital in Kilmainham in Dublin is the backdrop for a largely electronic festival aimed at a young, clued-in dance audience.
Live at the Marquee
June to August
This annual series of concerts began as a one-off event when Cork was European Capital of Culture, in 2005, but has returned every year by popular demand. The 2016 series kicks off on June 1st with Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games, and continues with Dropkick Murphys (June 7th), Simply Red (June 11th), The Coronas (June 24th and 25th), Nathan Carter (July 1st), Imelda May (July 2nd) and Little Mix (July 3rd).
KBC Music in Great Irish Houses
Does pretty much what it says on the tin – but that doesn’t convey the elegance and excitement of these classical recitals in some of Ireland’s most beautiful stately-home venues.
June 7th-19th, 21st, 24th-26th
An explosion of colour by the Lee in Cork city, with theatre, music, circus, dance, family events, festival trails, talks and workshops.
Borris House Festival of Writing and Ideas
Stimulating discussions in a stunning environment is the order of the day for this literary festival at Borris House in Co Carlow. Past speakers include PJ Harvey, Roy Foster and Ben Okri.
Carlow Arts Festival
Ireland’s second-smallest county puts on a generous 10-day programme of visual art, street carnival, music, books and theatre.
Bare in the Woods
If you go down to Garryhinch Woods today . . . Well, you’ll find that there are musical and ecological fun and games galore to be had among the pines outside Portarlington, Co Laois.
The Galway Sessions
Every year the Galway Sessions celebrates the music that Irish emigrants brought with them across the world, with sessions in pubs around the city. This year there’ll be a special festival to focus on the life of Eamon Ceannt, a signatory of the 1916 Proclamation, a talented piper, and a founder of Na Piobairí Uilleann.
Straw boaters get dusted off and offal gets cooked up for the annual celebration of James Joyce’s novel Ulysses and its perambulating anti-hero, Leopold Bloom. Readings, performances and re-enactments take place all over Dublin and beyond.
A celebration of diversity and equality, with film screenings, Saturgays club nights and, of course, the Big Parade.
Travel to Waterford and experience the world – of international travel writing. Last year’s festival featured Robert Fisk, Charley Boorman and Jonathan Shackleton.
Body and Soul
Tented talks, performance walkers, electronic beats, disco and soul – and that’s not to mention the holistic therapies, midnight masquerade ball, Soul Kids family programme or 15th-century walled gardens of Ballinlough Estate, in Co Westmeath.
Hay Festival Kells
An offshoot of the renowned Hay Festival held annually in Hay-on-Wye, in Wales, the first incarnation in Kells was in 2013. In addition to readings, workshops, book launches, and political and environmental discussions, the festival has an excellent history strand.
Bundoran is the surfing capital of Ireland, and this one-of-a-kind festival combines music, camping and surfing on Donegal’s spectacular unspoilt coastline. Where else could you see both Paul Weller and Seasick Steve?
West Cork Chamber Music Festival
This nine-day festival sees more than 100 top international chamber musicians gather on the shores of Bantry Bay for a series of intimate concerts and recitals. Plus violin and bow-making workshops and a composition competition.
Theatre, circus, dance, rock, world music and comedy meet on the banks of the Suir in Co Tipperary. Clonmel’s festival cafes are a special feature, with artists converting the town’s disused shops and offices into a range of vibrant workshop spaces.
Music and fun for all the family in the salubrious grounds of Kilruddery House, just outside Bray, in Co Wicklow.
Loughcrew Opera Festival
Pack a picnic, explore the gardens, then enjoy the opera in the reception rooms of Loughcrew House, near Oldcastle, in Co Meath. And if you want to indulge in a spot of cosplay by togging yourself out in some suitably historical threads, that, too, is positively encouraged.
Guitar Festival of Ireland
Dublin’s annual festival of all things string, from classical to flamenco and pretty much everything in between.
Galway Film Fleadh
This festival aims to bring those who make films together with those who watch them – in an open, friendly environment. The programme includes Irish films, world cinema, documentary, animation and shorts, plus the junior fleadh, which is a complete festival in itself.
Laya City Spectacular
July 8th-10th and 16th-17th
Spectacular is the word, for this is the festival that has brought us 14,000 people dressed as Wally, from Where’s Wally, a custard-pie-throwing championship, and street performers from all corners of the globe. Begins in Merrion Square, Dublin, before moving to Fitzgerald Park in Cork.
Live at Iveagh Gardens
Various dates, July
What with John Grant bringing his cool tunes and sassy lyrics to Earlsfort Terrace on July 9th, Wilco throwing some guitar shapes on the 10th, Richard Hawley doing his snazzy Sheffield thing on the 22nd and Little Green Cars pulling up on the 23rd, this is one of the coolest places to be in Dublin come the summer.
Galway International Arts Festival
From awe-inspiring visual arts to tantalising theatre, giant puppets snaking through the medieval streets to late-night musical parties in the Big Top, this Galway festival is fabulous from start to finish.
Earagail Arts Festival
Making the most of Co Donegal’s peerless landscapes, this bilingual arts festival creates some unique cultural experiences in all sorts of places, from theatres and galleries to village halls, forests and beaches. Incorporates Donegal International Folk and Roots Festival from July 14th to 17th.
Marlay Park’s easy-going selection of summer sounds has put this session firmly on Dublin’s festival map.
West Cork Literary Festival
A lively selection of visiting writers bring readings, discussions and week-long writing workshops to beautiful Bantry Bay.
Sligo Jazz Festival
Part festival, part summer school, this gathering of jazz enthusiasts is packed with workshops and master classes. The nightly festival club has been the scene of some memorable sessions every year.
Dublin Horse Show
National and international showjumping, food and drink stands, the RDS craft and student art awards exhibition, and lots more at the annual equestrian extravaganza.
July 21st-August 1st
The Enniskillen lakelands form the glorious backdrop to – and, indeed, are central to the programme of – this suitably quirky celebration of the life and work of the playwright Samuel Beckett.
Indie festival brings up-and-coming bands to the Blessington lakes, in Co Wicklow, for a weekend of special sounds. knockanstockan.ie Galway Races July 25th-31st If heart-stopping finishes and breathtaking fashion are what you’re after, you’ll find them by the bucketload as Ballybrit gets into top gear for the Galway Races.
The scenic Galtee Mountains rock once again as music – plus comedy and spoken word stages – returns to Deer Farm in Mitchelstown, Co Cork.
Waterford city is a riot of colour and energy as its annual street-arts festival gets under way. All music events are free, both indoors and out.
July 29th-August 1st
This boutique festival brings music to the oak woods of the 17th-century Charleville Castle, Tullamore, Co Offaly. Plus film screenings, art exhibitions, a day spa and lots more.
Feakle Music Festival
Feakle, in Co Clare, is a traditional centre of musical excellence, and this little festival punches way above its weight in the trad-artistry stakes.
Kilkenny Arts Festival
How to follow last year’s superb, sellout Bach series, Eternal Harmony? Kilkenny’s 2016 festival has opted to stage Ireland’s largest-ever celebration of the music of Mozart. There’ll also be theatre, talks, exhibitions and the unique musical collaborations of the Marble City Sessions.
The town of Killorglin, in Co Kerry, has to be the only place in the world where a wild mountain goat is crowned king for three days while people act the goat – in the form of singing, dancing and whatever you’re having yourself.
Lughnasa International Friel Festival
Celebrates the life and works of one of Ireland’s greatest and much missed playwrights, Brian Friel. One of the master wordsmith’s plays will be chosen as the signature production, and it will form the inspiration for the entire festival, which last year took place partly in Belfast and partly in Donegal.
Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann
It’s the third time the national fleadh has come to Ennis, and a joyful throng of musicians and listeners, young and old, families and tourists, is guaranteed to descend on the Co Clare town for competitions, sessions, workshops and general merriment.
Masters of Tradition
The finest traditional musicians perform for five evenings in St Brendan’s Church and at Bantry House.
This two-day festival at Tuam stadium includes two music stages, 20 acts and a wide range of food and drink. Sweet.
It’s the big gig of late summer, in Stradbally, Co Laois. Fields, tents, great music, great food, great craic. What more could you ask for?
Harvest Time Blues
The attractive market town of Monaghan hosts some top international blues acts, with nightly concerts in the marquee, acoustic gigs in the Market House, and a blues trail around the town’s pubs.
Tiger Dublin Fringe
You never know what you might see at this festival. From site-specific theatre to aerial spectacle, international premieres to multinational talking points, its mind-expanding programme is packed with surprises and delights.
Clifden Arts Week
Nestled between the Twelve Bens and the Connemara coast, Clifden is a work of art in itself at any time of year. But a visit at this time will be rewarded with a festival that includes literary, musical and visual-arts strands, plus a strong community vibe.
Sounds from a Safe Harbour
Cork’s port city heritage celebrated in waves, water and movement – aka music, art and conversation.
From 5pm until 11pm – and sometimes later – museums, galleries, historic buildings, artist’s studios and other cultural venues stay open, offering tours, exhibitions, readings, performances and films. Drama and poetry, music and dance, workshops and lectures, all free of charge.
National Ploughing Championships
More than 280,000 people attended last year’s ploughing – and why not, for ploughing is just the start of it. The 2016 championships, at Screggan, Tullamore, Co Offaly, will also feature a tented trade village, a food fair, a motor show, agriservices, livestock, fashion shows, sheepdog trials, bioenergy, the latest agricultural machinery and – most important, this – the national brown-bread baking competition.
New Ross Piano Festival
The festival has been weaving some stylish cultural threads by commissioning Irish composers, every year over a three-year period, to write a piece responding to a different panel from New Ross’s Ros tapestry. The final five will be put in place in 2016, adding to the works already completed by Gerald Barry, Elaine Agnew, John Kinsella and Linda Buckley, among others. As well as new music, the festival features many old favourites of the classical piano repertoire.
Dublin Theatre Festival
September 29th-October 16th
Ever wondered what the Catalogue Aria from Mozart’s Don Giovanni might sound like if Roddy Doyle had written the lyrics? Well, here’s your chance: Opera Theatre Company presents the work in a new translation by the author of The Commitments and Paula Spencer. More details of the programme will be announced soon, but as a starter this one’s pretty delicious.
Baboró International Arts Festival for Children
Adults must be accompanied by a child at this feast of top-notch music, dance, theatre, literature, film, puppetry, storytelling and visual arts across Galway city
Vodafone Comedy Carnival Galway
Ireland’s favourite comedians, plus such international visitors as Rich Hall and Phill Jupitus, make this one of the happiest weeks in Galway’s year.
Where can you find monsters, printmakers, Indian dance and scary fairy stories all nestling together? At Waterford’s annual festival of history and heritage, that’s where.
Folk, roots and indie festival sees some cool musical dudes wash up on the shores of the Wild Atlantic Way, including, last year, Jools Holland, The Waterboys and Rufus Wainwright.
Wexford Festival Opera
October 26th-November 6th
A whopping 20,000 visitors came to Wexford to sample the operatic fare on offer last year. This year’s musical menu looks even more satisfying, with new productions of neglected operas by Samuel Barber, Gaetano Donizetti and Felicien David in the pipeline.
Four days of living stories, four nights of deadly adventures. Let your Gothic side emerge at Dublin’s weekend devoted to the life and legacy of the author of the masterpiece that is Dracula.
Cork Guinness Jazz Festival
Ninety venues and a plethora of acts from the jazz world and beyond – think Damon Albarn, Courtney Pine and Chic & Nile Rodgers – make every year a sumptuous year at Ireland’s longest-established jazz festival.
Dublin Beatles Festival
All you need is . . . a good-humoured three-day tribute to one of the most influential musical foursomes of all time.
Spirit of Voice, Galway
All aspects of song and spoken word are on show at An Taibhdhearc for a weekend of hip hop, sean nós, percussive chant, avant-garde electronics and more.
Trad to contemporary, electric to acoustic; four days of musical revelry on Antrim’s Causeway Coast.
Dublin Book Festival
Four-day celebration of writing and publishing brings a brilliant bookish buzz to the city centre.
Sligo International Choral Festival
Choirs from all over Europe head northwest for this celebration of melody and harmony.
Foyle Film Festival
Film premieres, gala screenings, industry-focused events and special cinematic experiences in key venues across Derry.
One of the most established gigs in the winter calendar brings regular concerts to the 800-year-old Church of St James, a music trail featuring 45 new and established artists playing in unusual venues around Dingle, Co Kerry, and a host of ceoil agus craic.
December 30th-January 1st
A streetfest and a procession of light, music and general mayhem will get 2017 started. But let’s get on with 2016 first – yes?